Douglas Little was ready for a change. After founding (and selling) his high-end scented candle brand, D.L. & Co., the creative director-turned-perfumer had grown tired of the fragrance industry’s copycat scents and synthetic ingredients. So he decided to go back to nature, as it were.
In 2015, he founded Heretic Parfums, launching a collection of all-natural, unisex eaux de parfum. It was a disaster.
“I really trusted that I had great taste and everyone would love what I did, and it just didn’t work,” Little tells Alexa. Customers were confused by the “mysterious” names he chose and the “complex” scents he crafted. But mostly, they were confused by natural perfumes.
When people hear “natural fragrance,” says Little, “they automatically assume that they’ll smell like their stargazing aunt from Woodstock. I made it my mission to do contemporary fragrances that didn’t make you smell like you just got out of a spa.”
After that initial stumble, Little regrouped, discontinuing the flops and saving the scents that sold. In 2017, he introduced a line of scents dubbed “Dirty.”
“It was right at the peak of when everyone started talking about dirty chemical ingredients,” he explains. “So I was thumbing my nose at it — here’s a fragrance that’s 100 percent clean, and I’m calling it dirty.”
Gwyneth Paltrow soon came knocking, tipped off by Goop’s beauty editor. It was love at first smell. “Gwyneth has a clear understanding of what is quality, and what is not,” says Little. “Right out of the gate, she was like, ‘There’s this idea of being inside an ancient church where incense has been burning for years, but maybe you’re with your lover having amazing sex.’ For a perfumer, this is gold.”
Little’s creations are free of synthetic scents, phthalates and conventional alcohols, relying instead on oils, extracts and non-denatured sugarcane alcohol. That means that they don’t last quite as long as traditional brews (anywhere from 3 to 12 hours, depending on the base chord), and they adjust to skin chemistry.
“I love the sheerness of them,” says Little, who’s based in LA. “For so long, you’d get into an elevator and get socked in the eye with fragrance, and that’s not what I wanted to do.”
He’s gone on to create all of Goop’s signature fragrances, plus scents for its expanding line of skincare products, as well as a perfume for Dita Von Teese (called “Scandalwood”).
This spring, he launched two additions to his own Dirty confections ($65 to $185): Dirty Mango (which deepens the fruit’s natural muskiness with sandalwood) and Dirty Grass (a crisp, green fragrance spiked with full-spectrum CBD oil).
The addition of non-psychoactive CBD, which is being studied as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia, has inspired his next move. “It dawned on me that I need to start thinking of these in a functional capacity,” Little says. “Can I incorporate CBD resin with ingredients like vetiver, which is known to calm the mind? Can we start to look at fragrance in a way that goes beyond scent?”
That, he says, is “the future of fragrance.”